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Onyx reviews: Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 12/16/2017

Meg Gardiner makes an interesting choice with her follow-up to Unsub, the first book in a new series, published in 2017. Although Into the Black Nowhere follows that earlier book chronologically, it does not directly pursue an unresolved thread from the end of it.

Since her experiences with the Zodiak-like killer known as the Prophet, former Alameda police detective Caitlin Hendrix has joined the Crimes Against Adults division of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit—in a very short period she has risen from rookie detective to rookie Special Agent. 

One of her first field cases involves a series of disappearances in the small town of Solace in Central Texas. Five women have been reported missing on Saturday nights over a six month period, taken without a struggle often from public venues. This UNSUB must have a way of charming his victims without raising alarms. The pace is accelerating, so the FBI is summoned. Shortly after they arrive, the first body is found, suggestively dressed and posed, together with evidence of the magnitude of this killer's spree. Not to mention evidence revealing of his psychological pathology.

Gardiner, who lives in Austin, makes good use of her knowledge of that region of Texas, delving into the small town politics and relationships that might provide the FBI with the evidence they need to identify the killer. Caitlin's profile—in unison with a helpful tip—points her in the direction of one man, although there's no hard evidence against him. 

She and her colleagues decide to pressure their prime suspect, a character inspired by Ted Bundy, through the use of overt surveillance, which flirts with harassment. Per the profile, this suspect, no longer unknown, won't file a complaint because he thinks he's smarter than the authorities. The pressure to kill builds within him, though, so he takes a calculated risk to satisfy his needs, but the FBI is one step ahead, or so they think. Just when they have him within their grip, he pulls off a daring escape and leads Caitlin and the others on a cross-country chase. The bodies of those who have worked against the killer pile up.

The shadow of the Ghost, the one who got away from the Prophet case, who may still be plotting against her, lingers in the background throughout the novel. Caitlin is also dealing with a long-distance relationship with boyfriend Sean Rawlins, who works for the ATF in San Francisco, where he remains in close proximity with his ex-wife, with whom he shares a daughter. His work is dangerous—there's a serial bomber at work—but Caitlin has to keep her head in the game because her nemesis is cagey and resourceful, and he may have allies as well, so she can't allow herself to be distracted by domestic issues.

This is another solid serial killer novel that explores the type of profiling that will be familiar to viewers of Criminal Minds, although this team flies on domestic airlines instead of on a dedicated Lear jet. The psychological profiling is well-researched and utilized in the story, both in assembling the events that created this twisted killer but in creating the character of Caitlin, too, who has her own psychological baggage to mine. Her life is personally at risk in this case because she has dared to challenge a lunatic with delusions of grandeur and murderous intent.

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